As a highly experimental musician, trumpeter Dave Douglas has spent his career investigating sounds often far outside the acoustic jazz tradition. Douglas' 2015 effort High Risk finds him testing the boundaries of the genre yet again, this time in a collaboration with electronic musician Zachary Shigeto Saginaw, aka Shigeto. The entirely improvised tracks on High Risk are gorgeously loose and in the moment, a mélange of what the album dubs "electro-acoustic" jams with Douglas' lithe trumpet framed by Shigeto's atmospheric, layered electronics. Joining Douglas and Shigeto here are Jonathan Maron on electric and synth bass and Mark Guiliana on acoustic and electric drums. While Douglas has employed synth elements on recordings in the past, High Risk is his most digitized album to date. It's an immersive experience that blurs the lines between adventurous modal jazz, electric fusion, post-dubstep electronica, and avant-garde free-form improvisation. What's particularly fascinating about High Risk is the live, organic feel of the final product. Although one assumes that Shigeto must have employed a bevy of manipulated electronic sounds, the music here never comes off as canned; you never get the feeling that Douglas, Maron, and Guiliana are running through the motions of a prerecorded loop. Many of the tracks, like the opening "Molten Sunset," begin with Shigeto summoning a kaleidoscopic, shimmering rainbowscape that Douglas and his band ride ever cloudward. Other cuts, like the foreboding "First Things First," conjure images of Douglas navigating his way through a pixelated, post-apocalyptic video game landscape, his steps marked by Maron's foreboding doom-funk bass, his horn furrow-browed against Shigeto's Mars-like sandstorms of computerized menace. While the hallucinatory nature of High Risk certainly brings to mind trumpeter Miles Davis' '70s and '80s electric period, Douglas smartly bucks direct comparisons by largely eschewing heavy effects on his own horn. He blends well into the band's soundscape, but continuously finds key moments for his trumpet's warm timbre to stand out. Even when he does marry his lyrical lines to a ghostly, synthesized echo, as he does on the aptly titled "Tied Together," the result only works to magnify the textural, cellular quality of his musical voice.
High Risk Review
by Matt Collar